EUSTIS — More than 30,000 people are expected to attend the 13th Annual Eustis African-American Heritage Festival on Saturday, Feb .18, at the Eustis High Curtright Campus, located at 1801 Bates Ave.
As the oldest African-American heritage festival in Lake County, the event is more than just a one-day get-together. The celebration begins Sunday, Feb. 12, with the Eustis Nubian Pageant at 6 p.m. in the Eustis Community Center, located at 601 Northshore Drive. A girl and boy from four different age groups, 3-6, 7-10, 11-14, and 15-18, are selected to represent the pageant during the African-American Heritage Parade. Suggested donations for admission into the pageant are $3 for adults and $2 for children 12 and under.
The festivities continue on Friday, Feb. 17, with the Eighth Annual Black Achievers’ Award Banquet at 7 p.m. at the Eustis Community Center. This semi-formal gala honors current and former Eustis resident achievers. Suggested donation for admission into the banquet is $25.
“We select people that have made a significant contribution to themselves, the community and others,” said Carla Mitchell, President of the Eustis African-American Heritage Committee. “We put the announcement out to the churches and the citizens recommend people we need to honor that have really achieved greatness. This year we have 13 honorees, and two of these 13 are students from Eustis High School.”
The big events begin Feb. 18 with the Eustis African-American Heritage Parade. Beginning at 10 a.m., more than 75 entries in the parade will march along Bates Avenue ending at the Eustis High Curtright Campus.
The end of the parade signals the beginning of the Annual Eustis African-American Heritage Festival from noon to 4 p.m. The festival features soul food, cultural exhibits, African art, crafts, entertainment and activities for children.
About 60 vendors are expected at the event, including booths sponsored by community and health services, which will provide information about the help they provide to the community. A variety of musical entertainment is provided at the festival, such as gospel groups featuring rap, R&B, jazz and blues music.
“This is an all-day party celebrating our heritage,” Mitchell said. “It’s a festival of harmony. Many of former Eustis residents plan their vacation around this time to come back home. It’s just like a big family reunion with everybody coming back home for this big day.”
While the festival caters to all, through the years it has become an event of sorts for Eustis residents that now live out of state. Festival-goers are expected to come from as far as Georgia, New York and Michigan.
The weeklong celebration is capped on Sunday, Feb. 19, at 6 p.m. with an evening of drama at the Eustis High School Auditorium, located at 1300 Washington Ave. The production of “Why Does it Hurt so Bad?” is presented by the Eustis High School Drama Department and the New Life Center Drama Ministry. The comical drama is written and directed by Domanique Johnson and is sponsored by the Lake County Department of Economic Development and Tourism.
The play is a story about a young man named Jamal, whose parents were killed in an accident when he was very young. Jamal recently received a record deal to sing secular music and vows to never sing gospel music because of his anger towards God. Two pivotal moments are when Aunt Mary [LaQuita Davis], the pastor‘s wife, accuses the pastor [Greg Williams] of having an affair with Evangelist Neon [Gale Patterson], and when Aunt Mae [Aarie Evans] prays for God to forgive Jamal for he knows not what he is doing when he blasphemes God.
“It’s about a young man’s search to find the real meaning of life and understand how God could allow such a terrible thing to happen to his family,” Johnson said. “Jamal doesn’t understand why life has to hurt so badly.”
Johnson, 24, a Sumter County native, has been singing at different Lake and Sumter county churches and events since age 11. “Why Does It Hurt So Bad?” is his first play.
Suggested donations for admission into the play are $5 for adults and $2 for children 17 and under. For more information about the play, call (352) 589-6448 or (352) 217-4968.